How to leave a job but keep your career intact

Robert Half International

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Big news: You've decided to accept an attractive job offer and leave your current employer. Now that you're poised to launch the next phase of your career, the last thing you want to focus on is the previous phase. In the long run, however, the way you finish a job can be just as important as the way you start one.

Slamming the door shut on your current company -- or even trying to sneak out without a sound -- can close off future opportunities and waste months or years of goodwill you've built up with your co-workers and boss.

Making a graceful exit takes some effort, but it's well worth your time. Aside from the obvious benefit of maintaining strong references, you never know which colleagues you'll cross paths with again one or 10 years down the road.

You only have one chance to make a last impression at work. Here's how to make it count.

Tell your boss first
Regardless of how well you and your manager get along, he should hear the news from you directly. Casually mentioning to a co-worker that you're moving on can create an officewide rumor that reaches your supervisor before you do, causing him to feel disrespected or even misled. Don't disclose your intentions to leave with anyone at work until you've notified your boss.

In all but the most formal situations, dropping off a resignation letter is unnecessary and may even offend your manager. Instead, set up a face-to-face meeting. Keep in mind that losing a productive employee creates a high-priority, time-intensive project for your boss. Don't delay, but choose the least stressful time possible to break the news, especially if you think your decision might come as a surprise.

Explain but don't justify
Whether or not your company has a formal exit interview process, the amount of information you share about why you're leaving is up to you. Providing too much detail about all your reasons can be perceived as insulting, while sharing too little can leave an employer feeling mystified.

When considering whether to share a criticism, ask yourself if it might help the company improve or whether you mostly want to take a parting shot at the company for some perceived slight. If it's the latter, keep your discussion polite, general and short. Holding your tongue might be difficult, but it's easier than rebuilding bridges you burn by offending former colleagues or supervisors.

Always frame the matter in terms of your own experience and goals. For example, say, "I'm looking for a wider range of advancement opportunities than the company can give me right now," rather than "You're going to lose all your best workers if you don't promote more people."

Above all, remember that you're not obligated to justify the move, no matter how much anyone pushes you to reveal your motivations.

The long -- or short -- goodbye
Once you provide notice, your company may have valid -- and even legal -- reasons for having you clear out of the office as soon as possible. On the other hand, it may want you to stick around to tie up loose ends or help to hand off some of your responsibilities.

In either case, do your best to meet the company's needs, within reason. Being helpful and courteous on the way out can make a difference down the road. That said, you also need to be fair to your new employer and not push out your start date too far.

Network softly
The interval between jobs opens an important networking window. Before leaving, be sure to make contact with current colleagues, securing references if you haven't done so already. If an employee expresses envy that you're leaving, resist the urge to commiserate.

Don't ignore colleagues with whom you didn't work closely. Let them know that you're moving on and that you enjoyed working with them -- if you did. Simply stopping by for a brief chat can affect the way someone remembers you for years.

On the other hand, don't try to conjure a relationship where very little existed or pledge to keep in touch if you don't really intend to do so. An empty promise makes a worse long-term impression than a clean, honest break.

Whether you leave your employer reluctantly or with glee, devoting some care to your departure can help keep your work history working for you, not against you. It's also great preparation for forging fresh relationships in your new role.

Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit www.roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at www.roberthalf.com/dont-let-this-happen-to-you or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalf.



Last Updated: 30/07/2012 - 5:49 PM


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